June 9 & 10, 2018
How’s your family? What would you answer if I were to ask you this question? It would probably depend on a number of things – was one of your family members sick recently? Do you have a family member in the hospital, away at college, in the military? Maybe a good answer would be: WHICH FAMILY are you asking about?
As I was growing up, I thought of my family as my parents, 2 sisters and brother… of course also my grandparents on my mom’s side and my grandparents on my dad’s side; and the “family” of Aunts, Uncles and cousins (dad was one of 13 children / mom was one of 10 children – and they all had children – cousins by the dozens!). And then, when Connilee and I got married – also Connilee’s parents; and her sisters, and spouses and nieces and nephews. And then our children got married and there is our son-in-law and daughter-in-law – and of course our grandchildren!
God’s Word is all about families – God’s design was for families – husband and wife / Adam & Eve to “be fruitful and multiply;” to Noah; Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and all the families – genealogies that we find in the Bible – all leading up to The family of Mary & Joseph and Jesus!
And that’s one set of families. In both Genesis 3 and in Mark 3 we have a VERY SIGNIFICANT and maybe not often realized – distinction of 2 types of “families.”
Genesis 3 records the Fall into Sin – the ruining of God’s original perfect plan for “family” and His whole creation. The verses we read – v.8-15 are the pathetic excuses that Adam & Eve tried to use, and then we have one of the most important verses of the Bible – Genesis 3:15: “I will put enmity (hostility, animosity) between you (the devil disguised as the serpent) and the woman, and between your “seed” (offspring, family) and hers; He (the “seed” of the woman) will crush your head, and you (the devil) will strike His heal.” This is the first promise of Jesus – and all the verses following are in fulfillment of this divine promise!
Also, notice how this distinguishes TWO OPPOSITE FAMILIES. Because of the Fall into Sin, there are now two types of “families” in the world – the “family” of the devil (unbelievers, those who reject Jesus Christ and His Word) and those who are Children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. Note the differences: Cain killed Abel; the wicked generation of Noah’s day; the citizens of Sodom & Gomorrah; Pharaoh and the Children of Israel; Goliath and David; Nebuchadnezzar and God’s chosen people; King Herod and the Magi…
Because of original sin, we are all born into the WRONG “family” of the devil – “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” Psalm 51:5 Jesus told Nicodemus, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” John 3:5
Yes, there are two types of families – and that is what Jesus teaches in this weekend’s Gospel reading. It was early in Jesus’ ministry, and the crowds were gathering around Jesus “so that Jesus and His disciples were not even able to eat. When Jesus’ family heard about this, they went to take charge of Him (also the word for “arrest”), for they said, ‘He is out of His mind.’” This was a “family intervention” – Were they trying to rescue Jesus from the crowds and from Himself? Were they embarrassed by Jesus’ words and actions? Surely, it was done with the best of intentions.
When Jesus was told: “ ‘Your mother and brothers are outside looking for You.’ Jesus asked a question and answered it with a revolutionary statement. He asked, “Who are my mother and brothers?” Then Jesus looked around the group and said, “This is my “family”. Whoever does the will of God is My brother, sister, and mother.”
Jesus wasn’t rejecting His earthly family. (Remember, at the foot of the cross Jesus’ provided for the care of His mother, Mary. And James, one of the half-brothers of Jesus, became one of the leaders of the early church. Acts 15:13) Jesus was stating that a spiritual connection is stronger than any biological connection. You’ve heard the phrase, “blood is thicker than water.” It usually implies that family ties are stronger than friendship bonds. But let me revise it: “Jesus’ blood is thicker than family blood.” In other words, Jesus is teaching us that the most important family in the world is the Family of God, the church.
Many of us were adopted into this Family of Faith through the waters of holy Baptism – others through the teaching about Jesus first and then adult baptism. God’s Word clearly says: “You are all sons (legal heirs) of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” (Galatians 3:26-27)
Also, one of the greatest things about birthdays and holidays is that families celebrate together. Because of the special love for the family members we come together as often as possible – almost always including food and drink – to encourage and enjoy being together.
That’s what God has designed for His Family of Faith – that’s what we do every week in public worship and other activities – calling us into a loving, caring congregation of brothers and sisters in Christ / adopting more “family members” through the waters of Baptism; feeding and strengthening all the members with His “Bread of Life” – God’s holy, precious Word – and the Lord’s Supper. And working together to carry out “the will of our Father in heaven.”
God’s will is what “the crowd” was doing and we are doing here – first, listening to Jesus and His Word and then not just listening to His Word but being sent out to DO His will in our homes, work places, neighborhoods, communities.
So, how’s your family? We are blessed by Jesus to be a blessing to each other and to the world! Thanks be to God that we are called, forgiven and empowered to do the will of God every day, in every activity God gives us!
Looking forward to having you with us at the “family reunion” this next weekend as we celebrate Father’s Day and receive God’s wonderful blessings for another week of blessed to be a blessing in our family, community, the world.
Pentecost (Series B) – May 19, 20, 2018
Some of you, I know, have (EMT) emergency medical training. If the need arises, you can respond with emergency assistance until an ambulance or medical help arrives. One of the basic skills that you are taught, and that you must always be ready to use is C.P.R. – that of breathing life-giving air into another person who has stopped breathing until additional medical attention can be given. Many people have benefited from C.P.R. being used on them, and in a limited sense, we might say that every year many people, who had stopped breathing on their own, have “come alive” again, because some-one took the initiative to “breath into them!”
But C.P.R. doesn’t always work. After only a short amount of time (10-15 minutes) after a person has stopped breathing and the heart has stopped beating, no amount of breathing for the other person, no amount of C.P.R., can bring the person back to life. Everyone knows that except through a miracle (a few of which are recorded in the Bible), a person who has been dead for any amount of time at all, can NOT be brought back to life. That’s why we call it “resuscitation” rather than “resurrection!” However, we are aware of some “resurrections” – the greatest, of course is that of Jesus on Easter! Jesus also raised at least three people from the dead – Lazarus, the son of the widow of Nain and Jairus’ daughter. Also in the Old Testament, God worked resurrections through both His prophets Elisha and Elijah. And THEN WE HAVE today’s OT Scripture reading from Ezekiel 37!
Ezekiel 37 begins: “The hand of the Lord was upon me (Ezekiel), and He brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones… a great many bones on the floor of the valley…that were very dry.” (v.1-2) Possibly these bones had been there a long time – from a battle fought years before with no one to bury the dead bodies – the bones exposed, bleached and dried by the sun. Then the Spirit of the Lord asked the leading question: “… can these bones live?” (v.3)
What a question! Because these bones are described as “very dry,” the obvious rational answer is a definite NO! We know that using C.P.R. on someone who has recently stopped breathing may be helpful, but can you imagine anyone doing C.P.R. on a pile of dry bones and thinking that they can “come alive?!” Or can you imagine a doctor, scientist or anyone claiming that life could be brought back to a pile of very dry bones?
Yet Ezekiel is a “man of faith”. The Holy Spirit helped him to know that God is the One who gives life and can take it away. Therefore, truthfully he answered, “O Sovereign (all-powerful) Lord, You alone know.” (v.3) [What a great way to answer questions that go beyond our understanding! – God alone knows the answer!]
Then God told Ezekiel, “prophecy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the Word of the Lord.‘” (v.4) This was very symbolic of Ezekiel’s work as God’s prophet (and to each of us as God’s “ambassadors” – (2 Corinthians 5:20): speaking God’s Word to seemingly lifeless people. It is equally true today as God’s Word is proclaimed from pulpits, in Bible Classes, during family devotions, by parents and spouses; over radio, TV, written mailings, tape ministries, etc.; but it seems that the hearers are only “dry bones”; often “very dry bones”! “…can these bones live?” (v.3) As God told Ezekiel, so He also tells us: “prophecy (keep on speaking My Word) to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the Word of the Lord.'” (v.4)
As Ezekiel obeyed (speaking the Word of the Lord to the valley of very dry bones), “there was a rattling sound, and the bones came together… tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.” (v.7-8) Again – note the significance of this: When God’s Word is proclaimed, there may be some limited activity, but without “breath” in them there is no real life.
Therefore, the Spirit of the Lord again spoke to Ezekiel: “Prophecy to the breath… and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’ So (Ezekiel) prophesied as he was commanded and breath entered them; (the corpses) came to life and stood up on their feet – a vast army.” (v.9-10) [Do you notice the similarity to the creation of Adam? “The Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man because a living being.” (Genesis 2:7) [It takes MORE than clay and wind to create life – we most certainly have plenty of clay here in Wichita – and plenty of wind, too – but that doesn’t create life!] It wasn’t until God breathed “the breath of life” into the flesh and bones of Adam; and these “dry bones;” and OUR LIVES that we become alive!
The necessity of regular and frequent breathing to sustain our physical life is easy to see. That is why God uses this same image to teach us about our spiritual lives! Note also the significance on the Day of Pentecost: “they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house … All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit…” (Acts 2:2,4)
Notice also, with “breath” comes “speaking” (a person cannot speak without breath through the vocal chords!) – Ezekiel’s speaking; and on Pentecost: “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” (v.4) Notice then, how it works: Without the “spirit” there is no “breath”. Without the “breath of the Spirit” there is no life. WITH the “Spirit” and “breath,” there is “speaking” and “coming alive!”
A Sunday School teacher taught her very young class to recite the Apostles’ Creed by having each child say a small portion of the Creed, one after another. One Sunday, the class was ready to recite all three articles in front of the congregation. Everything went well (at first). The first student faithfully recited: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.” The other students continued, “And in Jesus Christ His only Son, our Lord…”; one after another doing very well until: “from thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.” There was a LONG PAUSE. The embarrassed teacher tried to prompt, “I believe in…”; but with no success. Finally, the next little boy said, “The girl who believes in the Holy Spirit is absent today.”
Too often, we are “absent” when the Holy Spirit seeks to “breath life” into us – either physically “absent” like the little girl; or “mentally absent” (day-dreaming or preoccupied with other things while God’s Word is read, taught or preached); or because of sin in our lives or stubborn unbelief, we are “deaf” to what is being said!
However, “The Spirit of the Lord… said to Ezekiel, ‘Prophecy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the Word of the Lord.'” (v.4) So also, we must continue to speak God’s Word in every situation – even if it seems we are speaking to “dry, dead bones”! It is God, the Holy Spirit who “makes alive” as His Word says: “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the Word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17)
Today we again celebrate Pentecost, and the assurance that, YES, “our dry bones can live!” And like those disciples on that Pentecost in Jerusalem, we are also “Spirit filled” / “made alive” to live and “speak the Word of the Lord” as God gives LIFE to “a great many dry bones!”
Hope to see you in worship with us next weekend – for Trinity Weekend.
God’s blessings this week.
Easter 6 – May 5 & 6, 2018
Jesus says: “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit…
This is My command (how you bear fruit): Love each other.”
What is this love? Listen to the lyrics of today’s modern “love songs” and most often it involves a) sensual feelings that come and go; b) conditional love (I’ll love you as long as you make me feel special) and most often they are c) self-centered and selfish. The world does not have a clear definition of true “love.”
God’s Word says, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) Even in our sin-filled world, we have examples of “sacrificial love” shown to family, friends, for the defense of one’s country – shown to those who have loved us first. But God’s love is UNCONDITIONAL. It is totally dependent on what HE HAS DONE.
Jesus says: “As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you. Now remain in My love. If you obey My commands, you will remain in My love… My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you…” (John 15:9, 10, 12) Jesus must “command” this because we were all born with-out this “true love.”
One day a man came into his pastor’s office and said that he didn’t love his wife, that he wanted a divorce. The pastor listened and simply replied, “Good!” This shocked the man, knowing that God’s Word speaks against divorce. But his wise pastor continued, “You know, if you FEEL that way about your marriage, I wonder if your wife might also FEEL that way?” The man admitted that he had not thought about his wife’s FEELINGS. Then the wise pastor challenged the man to join his wife in getting a divorce – not from each other, but from the kind of marriage in which the two of them were involved. The pastor asked, “What would it mean for the two of you to ‘divorce’ yourselves from the past and start building a brand new relationship based on Jesus’ love?
Love is much more than a feeling, love is a choice. First it is God’s choice. God chose to create a perfect world, He chose to create man and woman as His “crown of creation” to live in perfect fellowship and love with Himself and each other – perfection.
But this perfection was ruined by a very bad “choice;” a sin-full choice, a selfish choice – the selfish, sinful choice to try to be like God. Sin came into the world through Adam & Eve’s sinful choice – and that totally destroyed the perfect love relationship with God and with each other! However – in His GRACE God made another CHOICE – OUT OF DIVINE LOVE – God promised to send a Savior to pay the full price for our sinfulness, and in exchange – HE CHOSE to take the full punishment of all our sin and give us HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS.
We read in 1 John 4: “This is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:10) And we read in this weekend’s reading of Jesus’ UNIQUE LOVE – from 1 John 5: “Jesus Christ is the One who came by water and blood… (so important, he repeats it) He did not come by water only, but by water and blood.” (1 John 5:6) Do you understand what John is writing?
Water symbolizes baptism and blood symbolizes death – these represent the “book-ends” of Jesus’ public ministry. It is of highest importance that Jesus CHOSE to come by water – in His baptism, Jesus became the greatest sinner of all; not because of any sins He had or would ever have, but because He CHOSE to take upon Himself the sins of the world. When Jesus came to be baptized; John the Baptist “tried to deter Him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by You, and do You come to Me?’ Jesus replied, ‘Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Matthew 3:14-15 God’s Word through Paul writing in 2 Corinthians 5: “God made Him (Jesus) who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”
Jesus CHOSE to “shed His blood for you and me”. The shedding of blood symbolizes death. “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” Hebrews 9:22 Without Jesus’ death and resurrection, everything else that Jesus did – His Baptism, His healings, His teachings, all His promises – would be WORTHLESS. Jesus is the Promised One who took the full punishment for the sin of the world / all time / all people – through the shedding of His holy, precious blood – we have life – “abundant life!” Again this weekend: “Take eat, this is My body… take drink, this is My blood… given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of your sins.”
Yet, many CHOOSE to live apart from God – and apart from God we can only choose to selfishly love ourselves; but as we remain in Jesus we are empowered to choose self-less love.
She was 18 and he was 19 when they got married. After six years and three children, she decided one day, while standing before the kitchen sink piled with dirty dishes and a pile of dirty diapers on the floor, that she just couldn’t stand it anymore. She left everything and walked out the door.
She called home often to check on the children, and every time he would tell her how much he loved her, and he would ask her to come back home. But every time she refused.
After a week had gone by, he hired a private detective to find his wife. He was told that she was living in a second-class hotel in Des Moines, Iowa. He packed his bags, placed the children under the care of a neighbor, and drove to Des Moines. He found the hotel and made his way to her room.
When he knocked on the door, his hand trembled because he didn’t know the kind of reception he would receive. His wife opened the door, stood for a moment in shocked silence looking at him, and then fell apart in his arms.
Later, at home, when the children were in bed, he asked her a question that had long troubled him: “Why wouldn’t you tell me where you were when you called? You knew I loved you. Why didn’t you come home?” She replied, “Before, your love was just words. Now I know how much you love me because you came.”
Jesus CAME to us – “by water and blood” / Jesus COMES to us – Word and Sacraments – Jesus is COMING AGAIN.
Jesus assures us in His Word to us again today: “This is love: not that we loved God, but that HE LOVED US and sent His Son as an atoning SACRIFICE for our sins.” (1 John 4:10) and He assures us: “You did not choose Me, but I CHOSE YOU and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last.” (John 15:16)
Love is a choice: First, God’s choice of loving us, and now as we are empowered and filled with God’s love, we choose to love others as we remain in Jesus’ love. We pray God that we might daily divorce ourselves from selfish, self-centered love, to live and practice God’s greatest love and so joyfully fulfill Jesus command: “Love one another” not only with words, but also with our actions.
I pray to see you in worship with our fellow believers this coming weekend.
Easter 4 – April 21 & 22, 2018
 “I am the good shepherd; I know My sheep and My sheep know Me—  just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father—and I lay down My life for the sheep.  I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to My voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.”
It used to be that when a person was so stressed and anxious that they could not relax and go to sleep, the advice would be given, “Why don’t you count sheep?” I remember seeing on cartoons, what looked like the exact same lamb jumping over a fence as the person counted, 1, 2, 3… until he finally fell asleep. This may be good advice, but a wise Christian said: “Don’t count sheep; TALK to the Shepherd” – don’t just talk to any shepherd – talk to the Good Shepherd, our Savior and Lord!
That does it mean that Jesus it the “Good Shepherd?” Before we answer this question, let me ask you a related question: “Are you good at your work”? Would people say that you are a good supervisor, financial officer, secretary, teacher, student, husband, wife, child? What would they mean by paying you this compliment? Are you so good that nobody else could do your work as well as you?
History records some “workers” of exceptional character: Martin Luther, Michaelangelo, Johann Sebastian Bach, Abraham Lincoln, Henry Ford, the Wright brothers, Mother Theresa, Steve Jobs, and others. All of these and many more, even though they have done “exceptional work”, did not do all that could have been done. There have always been others who could carry the work in any area, a little more.
In all of history there is only One who has no successor; no one who could improve or surpass His work. He is the Good Shepherd; Jesus is in a class by Himself!
We read: Jesus words, “I am the Good Shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” (v.11) We need this regular reminder because our natural tendency is to “do it our way” – (My will be done!), thinking that we are able to handle our lives on our own. God’s Word is very clear and we know from experience – “all we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned everyone to his own way…” (Isaiah 53:6) The Good Shepherd MUST come and find us, lead and guide us, keep us in His fold.
An old shepherd once gave the sage advice: “Don’t count the sheep, or else they won’t thrive.” He meant that by counting the sheep, each live, unique animal became just like the next one, a mere cold and lifeless number. This old shepherd knew that he had to know each of his sheep by name, knowing their needs, their weaknesses, everything about them that made them unique. Only Jesus, the Good Shepherd, can and does know each of us this well! Only Jesus has the power and ability to take care of every one of our needs.
A very important part of “shepherding” is seeking the “lost sheep.” With such a large “flock” we need help especially in seeking and encouraging back, those who are lost or have strayed. Many times you may note someone who you haven’t seen sitting in “their pew.” Please call or contact them and see if they need some special “shepherding,” from you, one of us pastors, or someone here in the family of Holy Cross.
On this Good Shepherd weekend, we thank God that Jesus doesn’t just count sheep, He knows everything about us – individually – and He makes Himself known to us through His precious Word, spoken at our baptism; sung, read, preached and confessed – received in the Lord’s Supper; through family and individual devotions, personal and group Bible studies, and more.
When we or they absent ourselves from God’s Word and Sacraments, we not only miss out on the blessings of a closer relationship with Jesus, but it also grieves Jesus, the Good Shepherd who “came to seek and to save those who are lost” (Luke 19:10)
Jesus also tells us, “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also.” (v.16) Jesus does this through you and me. We may have the wrong idea like Little Bo Peep, who lost her sheep… “leave them alone and they’ll come home…?” HARDLY EVER!
Note that Jesus says, “I must bring them also.” Jesus gives us the Great Commission – “make disciples of all nations (bring in the sheep to the flock) by baptizing and teaching…” Matthew 28:19 And we can reach people especially in times of grief, sickness, death of a loved one, disappointments, etc. At times like these, many share Psalm 23, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not be in want.” And, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (v.11)
Sheep who love their Shepherd make Word and Sacraments a first priority in their lives. They do this because they know that Jesus, the Good Shepherd “laid down His life” for them. Don’t count sheep, talk to the Shepherd – listen to and follow the Good Shepherd – and eagerly invite others to come with you!
Don’t miss hearing the 8th grader’s testimonies of faith this Saturday, 7:30 p.m. and celebrate with us this weekend in worship – also the rite of Confirmation in the 11:00 a.m. service.